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Pumped-up Blackhawks going for ‘Nuck-out in Game 7 in Vancouver

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



A week ago today, the Blackhawks took the ice with nothing to lose. Their Stanley Cup defense appeared to be on the verge of a rocky ending against the rival Vancouver Canucks.

And they won Game 4. Handily.

And then they took Game 5 in Vancouver two days later. Handily.

And then they escaped Game 6 with a nail-biting victory Sunday in overtime. Crazily.

It has been a complete turn of events and emotions. The Hawks’ confidence is at its highest point all season with Game 7 tonight in Vancouver. They know they can be the fourth team in NHL history to recover from a 3-0 series hole.

“At that point [a week ago], you’re just hoping to win a game,’’ winger Patrick Kane said Monday. ‘‘You’re playing for pride and not being swept. You win a game like we did and you win two games in kind of blowout fashion, it really gives you some confidence.

“Everyone started getting excited about maybe the possibility of making history. But it’s not over yet. We came this far. It would kind of be for nothing if we don’t pull it out [tonight].”

Win or lose tonight, the Hawks have inflicted a ton of damage on the Canucks. They’ve created a goalie controversy where there shouldn’t be one and raised serious but familiar questions about the makeup and character of a team that was expected to make a deep run.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis called a news conference Monday in Vancouver and lambasted the officiating in the series, saying all he wants “is a level playing field.” The Hawks have had 11 more power plays than the Canucks, the biggest gap in the first-round matchups.

Gillis further stirred the pot by telling reporters that the team kept the lid on Cory Schneider’s start in Game 6 because “some unfortunate incidents in Chicago that we had to address with people coming into our dressing room that were unauthorized and different things like that. We just kept it quiet, kept the pressure off of Cory and not have people snooping around.”

But consider it an attempt to steer attention away from other glaring issues for his team.

The Canucks took home the President’s Trophy with the most points in the NHL this season but face elimination after blowing a 3-0 series lead. The hockey world is focused on goalie Roberto Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist, and whether he deserves to start Game 7.

There has been a lot of talk about whom the pressure is on in this series. But Kane doesn’t think things have changed just because they have a chance to make history.

“I still feel all the pressure is on them,” Kane said. “They’re the ones up 3-0. They’re the first seed in the West. They were kind of predicted to win the Cup this year and go really far. We really didn’t have any of that pressure on us.”

Center Dave Bolland’s return in Game 4 has been the balancing force in the series. Playoff newcomers Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli, Nick Leddy, Viktor Stalberg, Ben Smith and Bryan Bickell have gotten over any early nerves. And the Hawks have won with Jonathan Toews yet to score a goal in the series.

But Game 7, which the Hawks will face without Bickell (wrist surgery), is a whole new monster. Only Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Marty Turco and Fernando Pisani have played in a Game 7.

But the Hawks understand that, and they’ve been careful to avoid overconfidence. Still, there’s no denying that momentum is on their side. Coach Alain Vigneault said the Canucks played their best game of the series.

The Hawks didn’t feel the same way about their game.

“The momentum is going our way,” Bolland said. “[But] it’s going to be a big game. It’s not going to be an easy one. We’re going in there positive and looking for a win.’’

Is that killer instinct from last postseason still part of the Hawks’ makeup?

“We’re finding out as we go along here that we can be better than we’ve shown through the season,” coach Joel Quenneville said.



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